4 ways to increase the number of new doctors, says former Harvard Medical dean

Male doctor in white lab coat
The authors write that among the ways the U.SS can increase the number of new doctors: Embrace new technologies and make it easier for foreign-trained physicians to practice. (Image: Getty/Saklakova)

The system for producing new doctors and healthcare professionals in the U.S. hasn’t kept pace and needs to allow for more innovative approaches, according to a former Harvard Medical School dean.

Faced with a physician shortage that will likely get worse, the healthcare system needs to take new approaches to educate, train, license and certify medical professionals, write Jeffrey S. Flier, M.D., former dean at Harvard, and Jared M. Rhoads, health policy researcher and instructor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, in a Mercatus Center Study.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the physician short could hit between 48,000 and 104,900 doctors by 2030. While the country has been focused on the “demand side” of healthcare, including insurance coverage and payment systems, it cannot afford to neglect the “supply side”—increasing the number of licensed practitioners, the two say.

“We recommend that entities in the system be given more latitude to experiment with new approaches, new models, and new technologies, in an outcomes-driven way,” they write, recommending the following four steps:

Create more schools to train more doctors. The country needs to remove barriers to create new accredited schools and training positions for physicians, they say, including developing shorter and less expensive ways to train doctors.

Make it easier for foreign-trained physicians to practice. The healthcare system needs to provide paths to licensure that do not require retraining for qualified international medical graduates who have completed advanced clinical training in their home countries, they say. Their recommendation comes at the same the country debates immigration issues and worries continue about the impact legislative changes will have on the healthcare industry, which depends on foreign doctors and medical students.

Make greater use of nonphysician providers. It’s time to expand the type of care that physician assistants and nurse practitioners can provide, they write.

Embrace new technologies. Use of telemedicine, physiologic sensors, mobile health apps and other potential “force multipliers” can help transform healthcare. They should be embraced in both medical education and practice, they say.